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Why the CIA's secret flights irk Europeans

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Stoking the smoldering international controversy over America's conduct of its war on terror, a European Parliament inquiry has found that the CIA carried out as many as 1,000 secret flights through Europe since the 9/11 attacks.

With details that might conjure up movie scripts, an interim report by a committee investigating such activity alleges that the CIA occasionally snatched suspects from city streets and whisked them away to far countries or to the US detention facility in Guantánamo, Cuba.

The allegations have so far created few official waves, coming as they do as European governments mull their own responses to international terrorism - and after reports late last year had already prompted a round of transatlantic diplomacy. But the response does indicate that the US has a black eye not so much with European governments, but with European publics. And it also hints - as the report alleges - that at least some European governments not only knew of the flights and transfers of suspected terrorists, but also cooperated with them.

"These investigations and the fact that in this case it's coming out of the European Parliament suggest how this is more a reflection of European public opinion - and the publics here are very suspicious of what the US is doing," says Karen Donfried, an expert in transatlantic relations at the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

The European Parliament is an elected body but has few powers and is considered the weakest branch within the Brussels-based European Union bureaucracy - though it's also the closest thing to a barometer of public concerns.

Ms. Donfried, reached during a visit to Brussels where the new report was released, says she doubts the allegations will have a "large impact" in official circles, in part because of earlier indications that European governments were not uniformly in the dark on the CIA practices.

In fact, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during past consultations with European officials that the US always respected the "sovereignty" of all its allies, recalls Donfried, a former State Department policy planning official. "What that says in so many words is that at some level these countries knew what was going on."


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